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Warning: Meth Has a Greater Effect on Adolescent Brains

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Methamphetamine (also known as meth, crystal, chalk, and ice, and other names) is a tremendously addictive stimulant drug that is similar in chemical makeup to amphetamine. Everyone knows that methamphetamine is bad for you. But, what many people may not know is that teenagers who recurrently use methamphetamine suffer greater and more extensive modifications to their brain function than do adults who recurrently abuse meth. For this reason, it is imperative that teen users of meth get help as soon as possible. can help; call 800-654-0987.


Meth falls into the category of stimulants. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s teen site NIDA for Teens: “Stimulants are a class of drugs that can boost mood, increase feelings of well-being, increase energy, and make you more alert—but they also have dangerous effects like raising heart rate and blood pressure.”

Manmade, meth generally takes the form of a white, bitter-tasting powder. Although, it may also be produced in white pill shape or as a shiny, white or clear rock; in this instance it is called crystal meth.

Superlabs (big illegal laboratories that make meth in large quantities) are responsible for most of the methamphetamine made available to users. However, a small amount of the drug is made in in much smaller labs, which use cheap, over-the-counter ingredients, like pseudoephedrine, commonly found in cold medicines. Unfortunately, the production of meth involves the use of other chemicals, many of which are toxic.

Methamphetamine is classified as a Schedule II drug, which means it has high potential for abuse. Because of this, it is available only through a prescription that cannot be refilled. It may surprise some, but methamphetamine is prescribed by doctors in unusual cases to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and other conditions. When prescribed, the dose is much lower than the amount addicts would use to get high.

How it Changes Brain Function

Effect on Adolescent Brains

Long-term meth use in adolescents can cause anxiety, insomnia, and psychosis.

The actual impact of meth on the brain is rather complicated, so what follows are the basics.

Initially, meth increases the production of the neurotransmitter dopamine and this results in large amounts of that chemical in the brain, causing the euphoria that many users experience. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), “Dopamine is involved in reward, motivation, the experience of pleasure, and motor function.” This is why dopamine plays such a large role in addiction. When meth exits the system, it causes the brain to experience depression, which can only be relieved by once again increasing the levels of dopamine. The brain begins to seek out drugs that will stimulate dopamine production, leading to increased use and addiction.

The NIDA identifies the following effects of long-term meth use:

  • Anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Insomnia
  • Mood disturbances
  • Violent behavior
  • Psychosis, such as paranoia, visual and auditory hallucinations, and delusions

Prolonged use of meth causes chemical and molecular changes in the brain. For example, studies show that these changes lead to limited motor skills and difficulty with verbal learning. For long-term users, changes occur in the parts of the brain associated with memory and emotion. These people will display cognitive and emotional complications.

The NIDA notes: “Some of these brain changes persist long after methamphetamine use is stopped, although some may reverse after being off the drug for a sustained period (e.g., more than 1 year).”

Effects on the Adolescent Brain

A recent South Korean study of chronic adolescent and adult meth users studied MRI brain scans, which revealed diminished thickness in the gray matter of adolescent users’ frontal cortex. The brains of adult study participants showed less damage.

Study author Dr. In Kyoon Lyoo, of Ewha W. University in Seoul, South Korea, writes (in a University of Utah Health Sciences news release): “It’s particularly unfortunate that meth appears to damage that part of the brain, which is still developing in young people and is critical for cognitive ability.” The frontal cortex is involved in the ability of people to organize, reason and remember things.

“Damage to that part of the brain is especially problematic because adolescents’ ability to control risky behavior is less mature than that of adults. The findings may help explain the severe behavioral issues and relapses that are common in adolescent drug addiction,” Lyoo continued.

“There is a critical period of brain development for specific functions, and it appears that adolescents who abuse methamphetamine are at great risk for derailing that process,” writes study senior author Dr. Perry Renshaw, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Utah, in the same news release.

If a young person in your life is using meth, they are doing potentially irreparable harm to their brain. Contact at 800-654-0987 to connect with the resources you need to stop teen meth addiction.

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